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ACA: Library Orientation

Tips on Using Library Resources in Class

blue magnifying glass iconResearch Question: What are you trying to find out?  Your research question reflects the main idea of your paper or assignment.  It will guide every step of your research.  The research you conduct is your attempt to answer this question.

It starts with an idea...

blue magnifying glassChoose a topic that you're interested in

Research is more fun and more relevant to your life if you care about what you're learning.

green thought cloudKeep it relevant

Read the assignment and make sure the topic you choose meets your instructor's requirements.

orange question markFind the question

Where to find ideas...

  • Class discussions or readings.
  • Conversations with family and friends about current events or topics related to your assignment.
  • Find the most talked-about current events in the news by doing a Google News Search link will open in a new window
  • Read the table of contents for a journal related to your topic.  Look for subjects that come up often. 

Library resources to help you get started!

LibNCSU (North Carolina State University). "Picking Your Topic IS Research!" Youtube, 1 May 2014,

Remember, it's a cycle... 

Thought Bubble Icon1. Think of a topic

Your topic may change as you conduct research.  Don't be afraid to revisit it!

Open Book Icon2. Develop your search strategy

Before you start searching in library resources, make sure you know what to search for, where, and how!

Online article icon3. Find resources and information

Locate scholarly articles and books on your topic.  Going through the Library to do this will make your life easier!

Check List Icon with two checks4. Evaluate 

Make sure the articles you find are: current, relevant to your topic, written by an expert author and for a scholarly audience, and written for the purpose of furthering the scholarly conversation (not for personal or financial gain).

Quotes Icon5.Cite it!

Determine how each article or book sheds new light on your topic.  What information do you learn from each resource that you didn't have before?

It's not a straight path...

Research is challenging.  You will likely have to repeat every step in the process multiple times.  Don't get discouraged if your first topic turns out to be too broad, or if your early searches don't turn up any information.  But by starting out with a plan, and keeping a Librarian on call, you can avoid frustration.


blue magnifying glass icon

Reference Source: A broad resource for basic facts and background.  They offer a good entry point to the basic information you will need to learn as you start to explore your topic.

Reference sources include: Biographies, Encyclopedias, Dictionaries, Atlases, and Handbooks.

Why should you search for background information?

yellow information iconBasic facts: The articles you read and cite in your paper will assume you already know the basic facts about your topic.  These are the people, dates, places, and laws related to it.  You need to know these facts before you read academic articles to ensure you know what the writers are talking about!

orange speech bubble iconVocabulary & Keywords: Academic writing may use words and terms for a topic that are different from those we use every day.  By researching the background of a topic, you'll learn which terms academic writers use to discuss your topic.

yellow narrowing iconNarrowing you topic: Most students start off with a topic that's too big to cover in a five page paper.  By doing thorough background research, you can identify sub-topics that might be easier to work with.

The following Library Resources will help you find Background Information:

The 4 Ws

Guide yourself through your Background Research by answering the following four questions:

people iconWho

Who are the people or groups relevant to your topic?  This can include companies or even fictional characters!

Example:  If you're writing about video games, this might include gamers, game designers, Hideo Kojima, Blizzard, or even Nathan Drake.

blue magnifying glassWhat

What are the major events, laws, controversies, or issues related to your topic?

Example:  If you're researching health care reform, this might include The Affordable Care Act, generic drug prices, or  access to care.


calendar iconWhen

When have major events happened to affect your topic? This can include dates, eras, or even age ranges relevant to your topic.

Example:  If you're learning about school uniforms, this might include 1963the early 2000s, or teenagers.


world wide web iconWhere

Where are the places most affected by your topic? Which countries, regions, or states?  Does your topic affect urban or rural regions more?

Example:  If you're researching the minimum wage, this might include New York City, California, the Pacific North West, or urban centers.


If you need some help getting started...

yellow key icon

Keyword: A word used to search for information in a search engine or library resource.  A good keyword will relate to one of the main concepts of your research question.  Using a keyword in a search will bring up articles that use that word in a significant or important way.

Break your topic down to its basic parts...

  • Identify the Main Concepts

Write your research question down.  Underline the main ideas in that question.

Example: How does aging affect memory loss?

  • Make a list of keywords

For each concept, make a list of keywords related to it.  Use synonyms, and go back to your background research to find academic vocabulary and terms.  

Example: Aging, elderly, seniors, aged, growing older, senescent, old age, geriatric...


Identify keywords with...

Academic OneFile's Visualization Tool. 

  • This tool can be used to explore keywords and possible topics related to your research question. The video below shows you have to use the visualization tool for successful research.

Or use this work sheet to guide you:

desktop computer iconFind trade journal articles, eBooks, newspaper articles, and more in the databases linked below. These links will take you to high quality search engines that will help you find the resources you need.

Find Online Resources!

Search all of our databases at once using the Library's Summon tool!


Or search these databases individually!

Find physical books, DVDs and more in the Library!

Sometimes you need material that can't be found online.  The Library catalog at CCCC has booksmovies, and other media available for checkout.

*Helpful hint: if you can't find the tile or author you're looking for in a CCCC Library, try selecting "All CCLINC Libraries" from the drop down menu to see if you can find it in another community college in North Carolina.  If so, we can place a hold and get the book for you in a few days!

University Libraries Learning (UNC Chapel Hill). "Research Tutorial Starting Your Search in the Right Place." YouTube, 9 Aug. 2021,

Yavapai College Library.. "What Are Databases and Why You Need them." YouTube, 29 Sept. 2011,

LibNCSU (North Carolina State University). "Peer Review in 3 Minutes." YouTube, 1 May 2014,

There are 3 types of Sources:


Scholarly Sources

orange journal iconWhat's in them?

The results of a study, experiment, or any other kind of disciplined scholarly research.

orange author iconWho writes them?

Scholars: faculty, researchers, laboratory staff, and graduate students.

Helpful hint! Look for a University Affiliation in the author's bio in an article.  If they work at a university or college, they're probably a scholarly author!

yellow icon with peopleWho reads them?

Other researchers in the field, including students just learning about research and professors working on their own areas of study within the field.

green box with white checkmarkWhen should you use them?

  • When your instructor has required scholarly sources
  • When you need evidence to back up an argument
  • When you want to be sure the information you're using is valid 

green box with white targetWhat do they look like?

  • length: usually more than 5 pages
  • citations: use appropriate citations and include a works cited list 
  • vocabulary: use technical or discipline-specific language (often called jargon)
  • images: include very few images, mostly charts, tables, and graphs rather than photos
  • journal: title is specific and subject related, pages are not glossy, none or very little advertising


Industry Sources

Newspaper IconWhat's in them?
Current news, trends, events, and advertisements for professionals working in a specific field.


Icon representing staffWho writes them?
Professionals in the industry. Often trade journal articles are written by people with extensive experience in a specific industry. Helpful hint: Look for an author's bio in an article. This will give you more information about the author's background and experience.

Icon representing the readerWho reads them?
  • Other professionals looking for insights and discussions of current industry issues
  • Students looking to gain understanding of what it really means to work in a particular field.

Graduation Cap iconWhen should you use them?
  • When you are looking for credible information from an informed industry professional
  • When you need evidence to support your professional conclusions
  • When trying to gain information about trends or news in an industry

Multiple documents iconWhat do they look like?
  • length: most articles are 1-5 pages, although some can be longer
  • vocabulary: may use technical or industry-specific language (often called jargon)
  • images: includes some images to illustrate concepts, and figures are common in technical professions
  • journal: title is highly specific (ex. Canadian Mining Journal) and often references the industry itself, contains advertisements targeted at working industry professionals


Popular Sources

Magazine iconWhat's in them?
Entertaining or generally informative articles about a variety of subjects. Often these sources can take the forms of editorials or blogs that reflect an author's personal bias rather than focusing on the facts.

Author iconWho writes them?
People who may have conducted interviews or research to learn about the topic, but who are not scholarly experts in the field.

audience iconWho reads them?
 A general audience.  The writing should not require specialized expertise to read.


information iconWhen should you use them?
  • If you need basic facts or background information to get started learning about your topic
  • If you want to understand a very recent current event 
  • For fun!

online article iconWhat do they look like?
  • citations: very rarely include citations, but when they do, the formatting is not correct.
  • vocabulary: use every day language (some more specific popular magazines, like The Economist might use technical jargon, but will often explain or define it when they do).
  • images: lots of pictures
  • magazine: glossy pages and lots of ads


Watch out: Popular magazines and blogs cover a lot of subjects, and can be formatted in a variety of ways. The tips listed above will not be true 100% of the time. Critical thinking about audience and authorship are important when trying to identify popular articles!